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BUSINESS FOCUS - AUTO FOCUS - IT TAKES COURSES TO LEARN TO BUILD A CAR, NOT JUST DRIVE ONE

Labour gets learning

SLOVAKIA's planned car factories create challenges for the country's labour. Unemployment here is one of the highest in the central European region at 14.6 percent, but that does not mean a sufficient source of skilled workers for this particular industry.
One of the main factors behind the decisions of PSA Peugeot Citroen and Hyundai to establish their new plants in Slovakia was the availability of qualified and cheap labour.

SLOVAKIA's planned car factories create challenges for the country's labour. Unemployment here is one of the highest in the central European region at 14.6 percent, but that does not mean a sufficient source of skilled workers for this particular industry.

One of the main factors behind the decisions of PSA Peugeot Citroen and Hyundai to establish their new plants in Slovakia was the availability of qualified and cheap labour.

Last year the automotive industry employed about 54,700 people, which is about 10 percent of all industry-branch workers, according to the Automotive Industry Association (AAI) of the Slovak Republic. The number of people working in this area continues to grow gradually; in 2000 it was 35,900.

The PSA Peugeot Citroen and Hyundai plants will create stronger pressure on the available workforce. By 2006, Peugeot should employ about 3,500 people and Hyundai about 2,800 directly in their plants.

It is expected that companies related to the factories, such as car component producers, will need an additional 20,000 workers. "We suppose that the automotive industry will employ about 80 to 100 thousand people," Mária Nováková, AAI secretary, told The Slovak Spectator.

According to the National Labour Office, the number of registered unemployed who could take up a new job right away was 388,000 as of last June.

However, half of those people have lost contact with work for more than one year, and their working habits are damaged, the weekly Trend wrote. The majority of them do not have experience in working in the automotive industry and even graduates from technical secondary schools have only general knowledge and no skills based on practice.

The available unemployed labour can thus hardly be considered highly qualified.

To remedy the situation, PSA Peugeot Citroen is already organising re-qualification and educational courses and programmes.

The recruitment process for the French car producer started in June 2003. PSA Peugeot Citroen uses the services of a few external personnel agencies coordinated by the PSA recruitment department located on the future site of the new plant in the western town of Trnava.

Currently, mainly managers and head engineers are being chosen. Once they are accepted, they leave for a several-month internship in France. The recruitment process will last till 2006, the year the new plant opens.

"Our priorities will change. While in the first months we are looking for managers and head workers, in 2006 it will be time for a massive recruitment of workers," Alain Baldeyrou, the general manager of the Trnava project, told The Slovak Spectator.

PSA officials declare that requirements on education and qualification vary. Applicants for the position of manager and engineer must have a university degree and two or three years of experience in their particular specialisation and in management.

Technical and administrative specialists must have completed secondary school, mainly in the fields of electronics, automatic systems, industrial information technology, and industrial maintenance. Workers should be manually skilled, which is necessary for working at the front of a production line.

"The official language in the new factory of PSA Peugeot Citroen will be Slovak. Knowledge of French is an advantage but not a necessity. In job positions where the French language is unavoidable, employees will take part in intensive language courses," said Baldeyrou.

"Car production requires skills in many areas. It touches on chemistry, steel, interior upholstery, electricity, electronics, electro-mechanics, etc," he told Trend.

Hyndai/Kia should begin recruiting its future workers over a several-month period. It is expected that the labour requirements of the Korean carmaker will resemble those of PSA. The chairman of the AAI, Jozef Uhrík, thinks that Kia will also need workers skilled in metallurgy and plastics production.

According to PSA Peugeot Citroen, the Slovak national offices of labour register about 12,000 people applying for work in the automotive plants. "As of today, we have accepted 110 employees, of which about 35 have already completed their language courses and internships in France," said Baldeyrou.

This year, the French carmaker intends to employ more than 400 workers overall.

Apart from internship and language programmes, PSA Peugeot Citroen plans to open a new educational centre in Trnava to qualify adults. The French company also intends to run more programmes at Slovak universities and secondary schools.

"PSA Peugeot Citroen is creating a new phase in the educational process, because apart from universities and secondary schools, it wants to prepare children for technical education, even in elementary schools," Trnava mayor Štefan Bošnák said to the news wire TASR.

The French carmaker will employ people from all over Slovakia. "The more specific the position, the bigger the diffusion of our applicants. We have applications for manager and specialist positions - technicians from all over Slovakia. We have some applicants from the Žilina region [the future Hyundai/Kia site] too," said Baldeyrou.

Increased need for qualified labour in the automotive industry has also awakened Slovak officials, who established an educational commission last year representing the Economy Ministry, Education Ministry, and the AAI.

The commission's aim is to propose changes in the education system to fulfil the current technical needs. In one programme that is already underway, a chosen school in each region runs a centre for the education of pedagogical workers in automotive specialisations.

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